Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Choriamb and Monsour

choriamb today quotes a lovely poem by Leslie Monsour:

The Education of a Poet

Her pencil poised, she's ready to create,
Then listens to her mind's perverse debate
On whether what she does serves any use;
And that is all she needs for an excuse
To spend all afternoon and half the night
Enjoying poems other people write.

In case you don't know, [info]choriamb is a splendid livejournal blog about poetry in all its forms. And the good news of the week is that Tanya, who writes the blog, and who was thinking about stopping, has decided to keep writing it!

Her blog is always inviting.
Thank you, Tanya, for writing.

Huck Finn and the Nuremberg Rally

The latest New Individualist has an article entitled "Huck Finn and the Nuremberg Rally", by Bruce S. Thornton.

He praises Huck Finn as a symbol of American individualism. Against contemporary communitarians, he argues that community solidarity of the European sort is actually a dangerous thing.

"After all, you'd never get 200,000 Huck Finns to goose-step and 'Seig Heil' with the mindless, robotic fervor of those Germans in Triumph of the Will."

Try to imagine
Huck Finn
Fitting in
With all those marching Germans.

Which is truly
The triumph of the will?

A troop of hollow

Or that unruly,
Laughing boy
Rafting down the river...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Da Vinci You Know What

I thought the book was a good thriller. It made nice use of puzzles. It made good use of religion, including wild religious conspiracy theories.

I think it's the addition of the religion angle that has made the book a monster hit. The book paints an alternate history of Christianity that is obviously attractive to a contemporary audience. Jesus becomes more of a man, and a non-virginal "sacred feminine" gets rewritten into Christian history.

We saw the movie with a friend who had not read the book. She really liked the move and found it thought provoking. Marsha and I found the movie a bit less thrilling, but that was partly because we already knew all the secrets and twists.

Do I have to believe this story
When it tells me that the Templars
Really were exemplars
Of dedicated glory?

Or were they simply gory
Guys who trampled
Lives to build their ample

Memorial Day

We have a neighborhood 10k that happens every Memorial Day, followed by a small scale Memorial Day parade. I've been running the race a long time. For years it was the only race I ran.

It was hot today. But the crowd support was great. A lot of people ran their garden hoses out to the street to spray us down or give us a drink.

The parade included veterans, and a few folks in military uniform. They got applause.

For something new this year, the parade included war protesters. They looked to be about my age. I actually think they were the same guys I saw protesting the Vietnam effort back in the 60's.

It was like an acid flashback, except they had grey hair.
And I never even took any acid - really - I swear!

Protesters, go away.
Come again another day.

Today's for remembering people who got shot.
Not people who marched and waved signs a lot.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Democrats Getting Tough?

Here's an interesting article (thanks to [info]gregoryrpratt) about defense policy hard-liners trying to make a resurgence in the Democratic Party.

I remember this from when I was a child,
With JFK
But wouldn't it be wild?

The Republicans, instead of embracing investors,
Could all become war protesters.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Summer Is Icumen In

It's funny the way the weather changes everything. Cold to hot, dry to wet, white to green. Well, maybe that's not funny at all, just absolutely normal, particularly around Chicago.

"If you don't like the weather here, wait an hour."

The carpenter bees are back with the heat, drilling holes into the old wooden swing set. They nest inside wood, a clever trick. But you can't have bees living in a swing set. Some visiting kiddie might get stung. So the bees must go.

Creeping Charlie is back. He's a minty-smelling weed that likes to take over the back yard. I don't mind him, and the dogs don't mind him, but Marsha likes grass and flowers in the back yard, rather than a Creeping Charlie Farm.

Creeping Charlie means no harm.
He's just trying to start a farm.
Creeping Charlie, weed from hell,
With that pleasant minty smell.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cluck Cluck Hatch

Rand emphasized self-sustaining as the key attribute of living things. This was in a long tradition of biological thought.

Lately there has been more emphasis on self-reproducing as the key attribute. This makes it easier to count viruses and genes as alive.

So who is supposed to be selfish here, the Person or the Gene?

It's the problem of the chicken and the egg.
It keeps on going - boy it has great legs.

I've self-sustained and also reproduced.
I guess that gives both sides a little boost.

Perhaps it's two sides of a single coin.
At least it's clear how often they are joined.

Friday, May 26, 2006


The tiger cannot change her stripes
With fur of orange and black and white.
Furiously he sits and types
A nasterpiece with lots of bite.
The tiger roams the jungle ground
With deep green eyes that search for prey.
Creepily he looks around
For someone new with whom to play.
You don't have time to scream or shout.
The outcome leaves no room for doubt.
She rips you up and spits you out.
You're splattered with an inky blot.
Your reputation's fully shot.
You think he's sorry? No. He's not.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Color Me Skeptical

Scientists are closing in on building an invisibility device... sort of.

In this case, NOT perceiving
Is believing.

Case Reopened

The dream is fled.
That spirited lecture,
What the ghost said,
Was pure conjecture.

And no one knows
If she'd lend her voice
To open or closed
Or some other choice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Open and Shut Case

I dreamed I saw the ghost of Rand
Wandering angry across the land.
I asked her what was wrong, and she
Said "A.R.I. and T.O.C.!
Frankly, I critique them both.
Open? Closed? I roundly loathe
All such false dichotomies.
Search my works and you will see
Just how clearly I declined
To say I had an open mind;
Nor did I say my mind was closed;
I said the choice was badly posed,
And that the true alternative
Was keep an ACTIVE mind, and live!"

Good News for Dopers

"Shocked Scientists Find No Marijuana / Lung Cancer Link"

I bet they're shocked. Just about everything causes lung cancer.

How could pot...

Oh, cripes, what if it's a miracle drug
That's been swept under the rug?

If that turned out to be true
There'd be some 'splaining to do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cat Habits Blogging

Kitties are picky.
They think most food is icky.

But the good news is that Baby (a.k.a. Betty) is now actually eating a little bit on her own. I guess she has survived "feline distemper" - which is actually a virus.


Monday, May 22, 2006

On Finishing War & Peace

Tolstoy's a great writer, of course.
If you want to imagine what it's like to have a horse
Shot out from under you, he's your man.
Still, I'm not a fan.

He's anti-plan.
In other words, say a character has a notion
To get something done, and tries to put in motion
A plan to make it so...
Well, once you've read War & Peace, you know
That plans never work.
Historical conditions
Jerk them into a state
Beyond all recognition.
Better just to wait
And flexibly adapt.
That way you don't get slapped
Around by fate.

But none of this is true.
After all, plans do
Often succeed.
And when I sit down to read
A story,
I glory
In characters who can get things done.
Which nobody does in this whole damn book. So for me it wasn't fun.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Gotta Make A Living

The FBI searched the home of a Louisiana Congressman last year. As part of a bribery investigation.

They found $90,000 in cash. In his freezer.

Now that's what I call a stash
Of cold cash.

When you withdraw,
Be sure to thaw.


ESL is usually English as a Second Language. But now our legislators are pushing English as a Standard Language.

My fear is that once it's a Standard Language, government bureaus will try to Standardize the Language.

The French do this sort of thing, and I find it scary.

Also I'm worried that maybe
To say "Hasta la vista, baby,"
Will be so far beyond the pale
That I might end up in jail.

Friday, May 19, 2006

No Bones About It

Columbus is buried in Seville. Just ask the Spaniards.

He is also buried in the Dominican Republic. Just ask the Dominicans.

This just in: the Spanish set of bones has been verified as the real McCoy by DNA testing.

The remains
In Spain
Were plainly

I think they've got it.

Speaking of mystery burials, based on tips from a new informant, the Feds are digging for Jimmy Hoffa in some horse pastures, just west of Detroit, at the exquisitely named Hidden Dreams Farm.

Does he reside in Michigan -
Or is it a faulty snitch again?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sick Cat Blogging

Baby, a.k.a. Betty, a person of the feline persuasion, continues to worry her owner with symptoms of sickness, not eating, not drinking, not moving around much, and not taking her medicine.

So Baby has had 3 vet trips in 5 days, getting fluid injections and antibiotic shots.

Apparently Baby has distemper. It can be fatal, and there's a nasty variety roaming the south end of Chicagoland, but Baby, who was up to date on her distemper shots, is expected to pull through.

The real cost of a pet
Includes the bills from the vet,
And the way you get upset
When she's not all better yet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


If we want a wall
That's ten feet tall
Between us and Mexico
Here's one way to go:
Let them turn communist,
Very soon they'll insist
On building their own to keep people in
Like they did at Berlin.

(Idea stolen from Glenn Reynolds.)

Novel Causality

War&Peace breaks out into philosophy:

"When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it? Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur."

You can see where this line of thought
Might suggest that, really, one ought
To structure one's novel quite loosely
Or even a bit obtusely.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Plot Thins

I wish War and Peace had a plot
But it does not.

Yes, it has a story, or at least an interconnected set of stories, it has certain families it follows, it has dramatic events, it moves in chronological sequence, it has major characters, it is brilliantly written.

But, all in all,
It sprawls.

If you care, here's an interesting lit-crit book about storytelling technique in Tolstoy's Big Book. I was reading it at the library today at lunch.

Vet Visit

One of our cats (Baby, a.k.a. Betty) seemed sick tonight. Listless, not eating, some other symptoms. So we took her to the 24-hr vet. Vet said she had a fever and was slightly dehydrated. They gave her some treatments.

You know, most doctors rely a lot on asking the patient questions. But vets, not so much.

"Did you eat anything odd today?"
The patient won't say.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

My daughter has now made it through 2 full years of college. Yesterday I helped load the SUV up with her stuff. This morning I flew back to Chicago, leaving Marsha and Felicia to drive the SUV home.

(And, yes, over a room-service breakfast, just before I left, I gave Marsha a card and a small gift.)

That way I got to see my mother on Mom's Day. She has been having some severe health problems lately. The good news is that she seems to be on an upswing at the moment.

Still, her being ill
Casts a chill.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Book Lust

We had dinner at the home of a friend in the DC area. Her late husband amassed an amazing library of books, many on topics close to my heart.

He was zealous.
I'm just jealous.


This morning we visited Jamestown, Virginia, on the James River. It was the first successful English settlement in what is now the U.S.

They carved a little sliver,
There, on the shore of the river,
And tried to re-create
What made Britain Great.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia on the eve of the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg is an attempt to re-create some sense of what the place was like, complete with sheep in some of the yards, and shopkeepers in colonial dress.

We saw a well-done re-enactment of the royal governor, Lord Dunmore, closing down the Virginia legislature. He hoped to suppress displays of sympathy for those rebellious tea-partiers in Boston. In response, Virginia legislators issued a call for a big meeting of representatives from all the colonies.

Of course, we know that idea got way out of hand!

He closed down their doors,
But helped open a mess.
Maybe Lord Dunmore
Should have done less.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Crossing the Bridge at Antietam Creek

Today we strolled sundrenched fields in Maryland, not far from the town of Sharpsburg. We walked across an old stone bridge and looked into the flowing waters of Antietam Creek.

This is the place where 20,000+ men were killed or wounded on 9/17/1862.

Antietam Creek ran red
With the blood of the injured and dead.

Live from West Virginia

When you really love to drive,
It's almost sad when you arrive.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Moussaoui Changes His Mind

Moussaoui has changed his mind. Now that he has been sentenced to life imprisonment, he's decided it was a mistake to plead guilty.

Now he believes that he could get a fair trial in the U.S. - if he could just take his confession back.

First he pled guilty to terror.
Now he says it would be fairer
To redo that plea
To "poor innocent me".
He's proceeding by trial and error!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Quarter Century Ago

It's my oldest child's birthday.

Just before he was born, we rushed out to buy a crib, and a teddy bear, at Toys-R-Us.

I remember we made up the crib, put the teddy bear inside, and just stared at the empty spot that soon would have a noisy little occupant.

The job is large:
To be in charge
Of someone small
Until they're tall.

Well, he's tall now. Happy Birthday, John!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Moussaoui Sentencing

The man is full of fury
But a nice Virgina jury
Said his childhood
Was not good.

So they rejected
Having him lethally injected,
Which was all that he deserved.

Instead, a concrete cell has been reserved.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Publicity Hound

I got a mailing today
For the Alsip 5k...

On the flyer, I saw my own face -
A photo of me, from a previous race.

Hooray, my photo was used!
As you can see, I'm easily amused.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Masked Intruder at Federal Building

A masked intruder was recently discovered on the roof of the 43-story Kluczynski Federal Building. That's kitty-corner to my sister's law office.

The intruder was spotted by a construction worker. The construction worker's boss laid a trap, and eventually managed to capture the intruder. All with no help from the federal protective agencies!

The intruder was kind of furry,
And loved to scamper and scurry.
Do you need to ask
Who was behind that mask?

Yes, it was a raccoon.

The link has a good cell-phone photo of the little fella climbing 43-story scaffolding like it was his personal tree.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

But Seriously

I'm actually doing okay on War and Peace. His battle scenes and social scenes are both vivid. The battle scenes in particular often have a "you are there" quality. The scene Mike mentioned in the comments, where Prince Andre is lying on his back on the battlefield, looking up at the sky, is brilliant. Tolstoy's very observant, but the structure is sprawling, not really plotted, and sometimes he loses me on a character for a while. One of his favorite things to do is to have characters NOT know why they're doing what they're doing. But he drops hints, or just outright tells you, why they're really doing it. I find a certain amount of this to be fun, but after a while I start feeling like one of his big messages is: no one knows what they're doing. I don't like that message. But, hey, I'm only about a third of the way in. More to come. I've got to finish it in a few weeks for the book club I'm in.

Soon I may need
To pick up the speed
When I read.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book Report

400 pages into War And Peace.
Tell me, will this novel never cease?

It has a wondrous way of going on,
And on, and on. I wish that it were gone.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Medieval Memories

There's a witch of the week!
With glee they all shriek.
We'll have a fast trial
And brook no denial.
So get a rope quick
And watch the witch kick
With no chance to speak.
Die evil freak!

Protest Heyday

I wish the crowd
Wasn't quite so loud.

Yes, that is my self-centered remark about the immigration march. They went by my window for a full 2.5 hours of chanting and drums and occasional horns, holding flags, mostly American and Mexican, but with many other countries represented as well. As is to be expected, there was some evidence of the radical left: a Che banner, a "Workers of the World Unite" banner. But mostly it looked like ordinary people.

It was hard to work with all the racket. People in the office kept coming by my window for a look, too, further disrupting my efforts to concentrate and code.

I walked among them a bit. I overheard a teenage boy, on seeing a black police van, say "They can't arrest us all." I also heard a 3 year old girl say "Grandma!" I think the younger generation is picking up el Ingles.

They need to learn English, so that they
Can read my verses every day.

Picture of crowd with huge flag.

Picture of cleanup crew.

Update: according to local Fox TV news, police put the crowd at 400,000, making it the biggest demonstration in Chicago history. They reported there had been no arrests. Is that even possible?